I’ve done Candito 6 Week three times, sorta. Here I report my progress and review this somewhat masochistic powerlifting program.
The first powerlifting program I ever followed was the Candito 6 Week Strength Program.
I was new to the strength game, spending hours in the garage lifting weights after school – and was eager to pack some pounds on my total. What followed can only be described as a love affair of gains and spreadsheets.
First of all, the program is available on Jonnie Candito’s website here. It’s free, but there is an option to donate if you wish.
There is also a google spreadsheet version of the program available at Liftvault here.
The program itself is quite simple. There are 5 weeks of prescribed training, with an optional 6th week:
- Weeks 1 & 2 are for ‘muscular conditioning’ (essentially hypertrophy/muscle growth weeks).
- Week 3 is known as the ‘Linear Max OT Phase’.
- Week 4 is known as ‘Heavy Weight Acclimation’.
- Week 5 is known as ‘High Intensity Strength’.
- Week 6 can be skipped, used to test your 1 rep maxes, or used to just have a rest (a deload week in powerlifting lingo).
You are able to easily input your bench press, squat, and deadlift maxes into the program. The weights you will use throughout the program are based on these inputs and are automatically generated. You’re also able to select from a handful of accessory movements that are performed after the main lift/s on most sessions.
As the program progresses, the loading (weight on the bar) increases whilst the overall volume (amount of work) decreases. This sets you up for big lifts at the end of the program.
The Candito 6 Week Program spreadsheet features some light powerlifting lingo such as MR (max-reps), MR10 (max-reps, but no more than 10), and a few others. It also features a few opportunities to slightly adjust your workout depending on performance. There’s nothing particularly complicated about any of it, and I found the program to be well explained and easy to follow. If you’re ever stuck, Candito has several YouTube videos explaining the program in detail that are available to view.
As noted, I have run the Candito 6 Week Strength Program a couple times over the years. I’ll detail my first experience with the program and then add additional thoughts I had on the later run-throughs.
Candito Round 1 | Great Success | May 2016-June 2016
Height – 184cm | 6’0″
Sex – bloke | male
Bodyweight – 80kg -> 83kg | 176lb -> 183lb
1RM Bench Press – 110kg -> 112.5kgx2 | 242lb -> 248lbx2
1RM Squat – 140kg -> 150kg | 308lb -> 330lb
1RM Sumo deadlift – 170kg -> 185kg | 374lb -> 407lb
As stated, this was the first program I ever ran. I had been training for a little over a year at this stage, doing some fairly inadvisable bodybuilding splits of my own creation.
Having a guide for each workout was the first thing I found helpful. I noted that the workouts pushed me harder than I’d ever pushed myself up to that point, as I hadn’t trained the big three lifts with any real intensity before, favouring things like curls. I was a high-schooler after all.
Though the intensity was unexpectedly high, the overall volume was manageable. Candito generally has you doing just 0-2 accessory movements after your main lift/s depending on the day and week. The program very much focuses on the bench, squat and deadlift, and it’s on these big three lifts that you will spend most of your time and effort. Given it’s a powerlifting program, this makes a lot of sense.
Week 2 is especially brutal, calling for a squat set of up to 10 reps, at 80% of your inputted max. Afterwards you’re subjected to a cruel reward – 5 sets of 3 performed every minute on the minute, with slightly more weight. The next squat day is the same thing again – but with more weight and even more sets of 3 afterwards, depending on your performance. During week 2 I did consider contacting the ICC to report Candito on more than one occasion.
To be fair on the guy, week 2 did trigger a revelation – “This is what hard work under the bar feels like”. It was a new feeling at the time. Intense rep-work became a staple tool I have and still do use on occasion – I prefer the bouts of brief but intense effort over longer lasting sessions. As my ex will confirm.
The contrast to the torturous squat sessions are the leisurely bench sessions. I never felt like I was pushing myself particularly hard, and this is a sentiment that seems to be shared among those who’ve tried the program. The bench section is commonly replaced by alternative programming, and I only followed through with it on my first go.
After week 2 I found the rest of the program fairly easy to complete. There are workouts in the latter weeks that allow you to auto-regulate slightly, or adjust how many reps you do depending on your performance and fatigue level. I took every opportunity to do the maximum amount of work prescribed, as I felt capable.
Week 5 has you doing a heavy set of 1-4 on each of the main lifts. I went off script at this point. After hitting 4 reps on both the squat and deadlift days, I went on to immediately hit new 1RMs instead of waiting until week 6. I possibly sold myself short given by doing this, and my true 1 rep maxes could have been slightly higher than the progress stats indicate. I was only able to hit a set of 2 on bench press, which was still decent progress.
Overall I was satisfied with my progress. In just over a month I’d progressed faster than I ever had up to that point, putting at least 27.5kg on my total.
Candito Round 2 | Not so great | June 2016-July 2016
Stoked by the progress I’d made the first time around, I immediately launched back into week 1 for the repeat. This time I chose not to run the bench press portion of the program.
It didn’t go so well. I inputted my new maxes and struggled through the first 3 weeks. Every workout was a grind, and I began worrying about the potential for injury. I managed the sets of 10 on week 2 – somehow – but during week 3 I struggled to achieve the minimum number of reps for each set. After week 3 I gave up.
So what went wrong?
It wasn’t the program’s fault. I was a newbie and made some tactical errors:
- I needed more time after week 5 to fully recover from the effort. My first workout came just days after I’d hit several of the most taxing lifting sessions I’d ever completed. If I’d maxed out on week 6 instead, as recommended, I would have spread this effort out and been fresher come the start of round 2.
- I should have used a training max. I inputted my new 1RMs, which were performed in a peaked state (and were absolute grinders). The Candito 6 Week Strength Program is essentially a tapering/peaking program. The volume starts off high then lowers throughout the program, and the loading and intensity do the opposite. These new numbers were too high to be used as inputs.
Candito Round 3 | holy squat | March 2019-April 2019
Bodyweight – 90kg -> 90kg | 198lb -> 198lb
1RM Squat – 220kg -> 235kg | 485lb -> 518lb
Fast forward 3 years. I was a little bigger and decently stronger, having more or less exhausted my beginner gains, so I wasn’t sure how this would go.
I intended to use the Candito 6 Week to hit an ambitious new squat PR, since it’s renowned for its focus on the squat. Again, I replaced the bench portion of the program with my own programming. I was initially going to deadlift as Candito prescribes, but quickly lowered the volume to reflect my poor recovery habits (diet and sleep, not the program) and to prioritize the squat.
I hit both sets of 10 during week 2, both of which were personal records at the time. On week 3 the first set of 6 squats was also a personal record, though I could only follow it up with the bare minimum requirements. The rest of the program was difficult but I was able to just hit the maximum prescribed work.
On week 5 I decided to skip the heavy set of 1-4 and attempt a 1RM then and there, as I felt good to go. I first hit 230kg for a +10kg personal record, then 235kg immediately afterwards.
Closing Thoughts on Candito 6 Week Strength Program
I can’t provide an in-depth critique of the Candito 6 Week Strength Program as someone who sort of just played with it, never quite running it exactly by the book. That said, I have a few broad points to make which should be fairly uncontroversial:
- Candito 6 Week suits those who can handle high intensity. Strong and fast recovery will be rewarded by this program, as will a caloric surplus. It’s a short program, and fueling the machine as much as possible will lead to success. Eat a lot, sleep a lot.
- Candito 6 Week is not for absolute novices. Those who haven’t yet learned how to safely execute the powerlifting movements shouldn’t run this program – bad form will be punished, especially during week 2, and you’ll be liable to injure yourself. Not only that, but absolute novices can progress faster than this program will realistically allow you to. Candito has a linear program for the more inexperienced lifter available on his website.
- Candito 6 Week becomes more of a peaking program for more advanced lifters. There’s a point in a lifter’s career when running a program like this back to back will become unsustainable. That point is different for everyone, but for most lifters coming into their third year or so, a 6 week turnaround is just too much, too fast. A recommendation that’s sometimes given is to extend the hypertrophy section – the first 2 weeks – to give yourself more time to grow before launching into the heavy stuff. That said, it’s a fairly simple and elegant peaking program for the intermediate to advanced lifter.
- If you’ve got powerlifting spirit, the Candito 6 Week Strength Program will help you find it. If you’ve got a modest base of strength then it’s a great introduction to powerlifting-style training. Not to mention, if you’ve got even the slightest masochistic streak, it’ll open your eyes to how great/painful high intensity squats are.
Here’s to Candito and his 6 weeks of strength gains. HQ!